In an interesting piece in the New York Times, Leslie Kaufman writes: "The wheels of justice move slowly sometimes, but not, apparently, as slowly as Webster’s New World Dictionary." Given that courts must sometimes resort to dictionaries to define terms--as in, for example, determining legislative intent and the meaning of a statute--it is important to have these resources.
According to Kaufman, lawyers and judges are relying in this age of rap and slang upon a more informal source of definitions: Urban Dictionary, a crowdsourced collection of slang words on the Internet. [I challenge you: find "crowdsourced" in Webster's Dictionary!]
Kaufman writes that courts refer so often to Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia in legal cases that the law review of St. John’s University in Queens published an article in its Spring 2010 issue outlining "standardized rules" for the most appropriate uses of crowdsourced Web sites. The St. John's University article notes that it is neither appropriate nor necessary to use urban dictionaries or Wikipedia to define scientific terms and other technical definitions.
“The wisdom of the crowd is an appropriate and valuable reference when consensus itself is at issue, the information is generally known or the content is easily verifiable.”
You may review the New York Time article here: Kauffman, Leslie. New York Times, "For the Word on the Street, Courts Call Up an Online Witness." Last modified May 23, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2013.
The law review article may be accessed here: Miller, Jason, et al., and Hannah B. Murray. "Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites Is Appropriate." St. John's Law Review. no. 2 (2010): 633-655. http://tinyurl.com/pv8atqv (accessed May 23, 2013). Download Wikipedia in Court_ When and How
For a recent court decision citing to Wikipedia see State v Lumpkins, Docket No. 2012AP1670-CR, Decided April 2, 2013 (Wisconsin Court of Appeals). Download State v Lumpkins
POSTSCRIPT: After this blog post went to press, Matthew Kobliska emailed to say the following, which is simply too good not to share:Jeanne: Your post reminded me of my all-time favorite [edited]:
In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit
Nos. 04-2032, 04-2293 & 04-2309
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
DARRON J. MURPHY, SR.,
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
No. 03 CR 30137-G. Patrick Murphy, Chief Judge.
ARGUED JANUARY 13, 2005-DECIDED MAY 4, 2005
Before ROVNER, EVANS, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.
* * *
On the evening of May 29, 2003, Hayden was smoking crack with three other folks at a trailer park home on Chain of Rocks Road in Granite City, Illinois. Murphy, Sr., who had sold drugs to Hayden several years earlier, showed up later that night. He was friendly at first, but he soon called Hayden a "snitch bitch hoe" (See Note 1) and hit her in the head with the back of his hand.
* * *
Note 1 - The trial transcript quotes Ms. Hayden as saying Murphy called her a snitch bitch "hoe." A "hoe," of course, is a tool used for weeding and gardening. We think the court reporter, unfamiliar with rap music (perhaps thankfully so), misunderstood Hayden's response. We have taken the liberty of changing "hoe" to "ho," a staple of rap music vernacular as, for example, when Ludacris raps "You doin' ho activities with ho tendencies."